To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up a bottle of Jolly Pumpkin’s Baudelaire Saison Ale. The label seemed Parisian, somehow—the Paris of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge. For all it’s many amazing qualities (it really is the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited, and the Disneyland there just rocks), Paris isn’t really a city one associates with beer. Baudelaire is from Michigan, not France, but still, Paris is what the branding suggests. Also, for a craft ale, it’s label is, well, girly. Beer labels usually feature rugged rocky mountains, or patriots, or pirates, or wild dogs. Or at very least, bundles of, you know, wheat or something. This one? I mean, just look at it:
It has rose petals in it, for cryin’ out loud. And rose hips. I’m not really sure what those are, but they sound girly. That said, it comes in one of those great big bottles that holds enough to to fill two glasses—perfect for sharing. You know the ones I mean—big, manly bottles like the ones you see pirates swilling rum out of in the movies. So curiosity got the better of me. My wife might like it, anyway, I decided. She’s in to all the arty French stuff. Besides, it also has hibiscus in it, the stuff that’s in that good Jamaican tea. And some of the best writers and philosophers salons ever have sprung up in Paris. Maybe they’d drink something like this there, at least when the absinthe ran out.The pleasantly strong and bready aroma is apparent as soon as the bottle is opened. It’s wheaty and yeasty, with subtle hints of fruit—dried orange, maybe—and floral notes. It pours a ruby red (like roses, of course) with one of the thickest, creamiest heads I’ve ever encountered. It reminded me of a root beer float. The taste surprised me—it wasn’t nearly as sweet as I was expecting, although there was a very subtle fruity, floral undertone. The hints of sweetness, as a matter of fact, came mostly in the very pleasant, lingering aftertaste. Almost like a white wine.
The grains dominated the first and most obvious wave of flavor, reminding me of a cross between a Belgian wheat beer and a hoppy American craft ale in the Anchor Steam/Samuel Adams tradition. There is a rustic farmhouse rawness there that I didn’t expect, but that I quite enjoyed. I can’t say I tasted the rose petals (actually, I have no idea whether I did or not—I have no idea what rose petals taste like), but there was a gentle, almost lemony flavor that balanced the wheat grains and yeast nicely. That, with the slightly bitter, hoppy finish, made the flavor balanced and quite refreshing.
Overall, I’d call Baudelaire Saison Ale a very pleasant surprise. We paired it with Italian food. It held its own admirably, offering terrific flavor without overpowering the meal. It wasn’t girly at all. It’s well worth purchasing, especially to share over a good dinner.